Arrested for giving out fruit

July 21, 2015

During the month of Ramadan Muslims worldwide fast to remember the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. In Egypt, at sundown each day, observant Muslims will customarily break their fast at their evening iftar meal by eating dates.

Knowing this, 16 year old Christian Fawzi Osama, from the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria, decided to hand out dates to those hurrying home before sundown. In a country that is 90 per cent Muslim, nearly every passer-by was, almost certainly, a Muslim taking part in Ramadan.

In each small plastic bag of dates he also had included a slip of paper containing a Christian message.

Before the night was over, an offended bystander had stopped Fawzi and taken him to a nearby police station. The irate Muslim demanded the minor be charged with offending Islam and attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity.

A local news website reported that the printed material inside each bag included this message: “The Lord knows all that occurs, for He is the mighty Knower. He can carry on his shoulders all that is oppressive and exhausting and bring comfort and joy, for He loves you very much.” The slip of paper also included a link to a Christian website with evangelistic content.

Two of Fawzi’s Christian friends who had heard what had happened hurried to the police station that same evening, only to also be detained.

“Upon arriving to check on my friend Fawzi, the police at the police station took hold of my ID and mobile, and we were likewise detained,” Stephen Botros Fayed, 21, later wrote on his Facebook page. “‘You’re with the dates guy,’ they said, before remanding us two as well in custody.”

“If someone had been caught with hashish or was drinking alcohol on the street, it would have been easier for them than everything we’ve gone through”.

The next morning, the prosecution began an investigation into the claims against Osama, Fayed and his other friend, Shady Saeed, 20.

The three were referred to prosecutors on suspicion of “defamation of religions and being in pursuit of a modern recourse to evangelism aimed at drawing in Muslims.” The Egyptian penal code calls for up to five years in prison for anyone convicted of an act of religious contempt.

Coptic lawyer Joseph Malak, who was present during the investigation, said that once the prosecution officials learned the two friends had not been with Osama, “Stephen and Shady were excluded from the case.”

However, each of the three young Copts were released on 12 July on a bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (about £820), pending further investigation.

Under Egyptian law, Islam is the country’s official religion, and open proselytising for any other religion can court trouble for “inciting sectarian strife.”

“There is nothing called ‘proselytising’ in the Egyptian penal code,” Malak said. “Fawzi is underage, and he didn’t intend to incite sectarian strife. His situation is good in the case. I expect that he will be acquitted if there is a Court of Misdemeanors hearing for it. Maybe it will be dropped.”

On his Facebook page, Fayed wrote that he and Saeed were not involved with distributing dates or Christian literature with Osama:

“If someone had been caught with hashish or was drinking alcohol on the street, it would have been easier for them than everything we’ve gone through”.

Over the past couple of years, young Christians (mainly in Alexandria) have distributed dates during Ramadan.

A representative of the Evangelical Coptic Church, Pastor Refaat Fikri said: “What these Christian young people do when they hand out dates to fasting Muslims on the streets is a positive thing, and should continue. This is in itself enough to express the love called for by Jesus Christ in his teachings.

“In order to make facts clear, we must affirm that evangelisation does not mean blasphemy, but it is only preaching the teachings of Christ. Blasphemy means to insult and mock other religions, which is not taught by Christ. Every true Christian does not accept to disdain other religions.”

Please pray…

  • Pray for peace and security for Fawzi, Fayed and Shady who face these charges
  • Ask that all would be released without charge
  • Pray for the Christian community in Alexandria who face massive challenges like this as they try and show God’s love to other members of their community
  • Pray for Egypt and the recent political unrest. Ask that the church would play a key role as the country tries to define a new future.

We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.